“You can’t change Washington from the inside.”
That’s what Barack Obama said he learned as president, when questioned at a forum on Thursday.
Romney seized on the remarks, saying Obama has surrendered to the forces of Washington.
Obama is correct, of course, that fundamental reform and social change is not usually hatched by Washington insiders. That is not a controversial view. It’s the premise animating grassroots conservative activism from Grover Norquist to the Tea Party, which primaries Republicans who represent the 2-0-2 for too long.
You can’t really understand Obama’s relationship to the inside game, however, without digging into the weeds of his unusual experiment with a grassroots, outside game: the 2009 creation of Organizing for America (OFA), which was designed to extend his massive field army from the last campaign into a governing force.
That unusual effort never got much attention from political and media leaders, because fieldwork is considered boring. And it probably won’t get much attention now, even though Obama’s talk about how the outside game works suggests a key misperception about his first term…
The rest of my new Nation article is here.